Submissions open on possible changes to the family justice system

The Independent Panel considering the 2014 family justice system reforms is seeking feedback on their ideas for reform from today (23 January 2019). Submissions close on 1 March 2019.

“Following our initial round of consultations, the Panel has some suggestions for change,” says Rosslyn Noonan, Panel Chair.

“We want to hear from the people who submitted to us, from people who work in family justice services, and people who have used those services. We want their views on the proposals we are developing.

“We are open to the suggestions being challenged and there are a number of issues we are still considering. It’s therefore essential that we hear from people with a wide range of experiences across the family justice system. The final report will be strengthened by the responses we receive.”

The Panel undertook its first round of consultations between September and November 2018.

“Across New Zealand, parents, grandparents, caregivers, children and young people and their whānau told us about the difficulties they experienced in the Family Court and with related services.”

“Many of the professionals we met, or who made submissions, spoke of significant barriers to timely, fair, long-lasting resolutions to those disputes. Early evaluations of the effect of the 2014 changes and current research support these concerns,” says Ms Noonan.

The Panel considers that the Family Court and related services should work in a joined-up way that is accessible and responsive to families’ different needs.

“We envisage a network that brings together the Family Court and a range of services. This Family Justice Service, would form a korowai, a cloak for separating parents, caregivers, and whānau who need help making decisions about their children,” says Ms Noonan.

“The Service must be visible, informative, accessible, responsive, and cohesive. It should encourage and support people to agree on decisions about their children and mokopuna at the earliest time and in the least adversarial way. The Panel agrees it is in the best interests of children if arrangements for their care and decisions about them can be decided without having to go to court, which is inherently adversarial”.

Specific proposals include:

  • making targeted counselling available
  • allowing people involved in care of children disputes unrestricted representation by a lawyer
  • allowing people to make an application to the Family Court at any time and without pre-conditions
  • establishing an effective triaging system when applications are filed in court, so cases needing urgent judicial attention are referred directly to a judge for directions
  • introducing new roles to improve how the court deals with applications, and to support joined-up family justice services.

The Panel is also working, amongst others, on proposals to ensure:

  • recognition of Te Ao Maori and integration of tikanga Maori in family justice services
  • systematic accommodation of people with disabilities
  • children can take part in a meaningful way and that their voices are heard
  • strengthening children’s safety and the way family violence is dealt with.

The Panel will be submitting its final report to Justice Minister, Andrew Little in May 2019.

You can add your submission here:

Submit your views on strengthening the family justice system(external link)

More information about the Panel’s consultation document can be found here:

Family Court rewrite

Strengthening the family justice system - Q and A [PDF, 330 KB]

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